Venice Architecture Biennale: How Architecture Saves the World

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On May 22, the XVII International Architecture Biennale opened in Venice – a year later due to the pandemic. Its title is “How are we going to live together?” was invented a long time ago, and although the world has changed dramatically since then, the topic remains relevant. How do architects react to the new situation? Tatiana Rozenstein, art critic and culturologist, is investigating

This year's Architecture Biennale is curated by Lebanese-American architect Hashim Sarkis, who heads the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. The day before the opening of the exhibition, he spoke to reporters with an ardent statement that the world can no longer wait for “politicians to offer a path to a better future.” And since politics “continues to divide and isolate,” the people themselves, whose number on the planet will soon reach 10 billion people, must start looking for alternative ways of living together, in which architecture should help them.

Architect Hashim Sarkis – curator of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale.

Sarkis believes that the architectural layouts existing today are hopelessly outdated. Their ideas take their roots from the first half of the 20th century, from the time when the functions of buildings were clearly divided into “private” and “public”, when there was a strict division between home and work, when industrial enterprises were allocated territories outside the cities and when agriculture was developing away from the metropolis.

Today architects face different challenges. Such aspects as climate change, sustainability, social inactivity, mass migration, political polarization come to the fore. “The pandemic may end soon, but if architects do not address the pressing problems of our time, humanity will not have the opportunity to move on,” & nbsp; – says the architect.

The curator divided the Biennale into five sections that focus on ideas such as the boundaries of the human body, national and planetary forms of coexistence, including the healthy coexistence of man with nature.

Many of the authors have shown an original, albeit not overly optimistic, vision of the future. Tim Parsons and Jessica Charlesworth, Brits living in Chicago, presented the so-called Post-Human Catalog. This project is & nbsp; – a brilliant satire on nascent everyday life, in which smart bracelets and phones measure sleep efficiency and count steps, thereby driving people into the trap of self-optimization.

In a huge “closet of horrors” are presented collecting accessories for the everyday life of future office workers who are forced to survive and remain competitive. For example, the makeshift coffee machine used to take the morning dose of LSD. For generations to come, it will be essential support during busy workdays, just like a suit that continuously injects a mixture of nutrients directly into a vein.

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To the question “What will the new forms of coexistence look like?” reflects a young group of architects led by Nicolas Laisné. Their One Open Tower project at the Arsenal depicts a high-rise with spacious terraces and hanging gardens to replace the façades of modern residential developments.

Nicolas Lesnay's One Open Tower.

< p>A visitor entering the Giardini Central Pavilion is greeted with deafening thunder from one room. This is the sound of ice cracking in Antarctica. Giulia Foscari brought together 200 experts, including climatologists, lawyers and chemists, for her project, Unless, , dedicated to saving 26 quadrillion tons of ice. She urges contemporaries not to forget that the consequences of the impending environmental disaster will make all efforts of architects and city planners useless.

It is in this pavilion that most of the projects devoted to the topic of the environment and representing models of the ecological apocalypse are concentrated. Architects and artists have very different forecasts for the future. Thus, the Design Earth studio with the work “Planet after Geoengineering” seems to want to reconcile us with the inevitable catastrophe, demonstrating in drawings and animation how the planet is enveloped in a “sulfur storm” or “dust cloud”. Australian landscape architect Richard Weller is inclined to find positive solutions. He proposes to create a global park.

Project by Australian landscape architect Richard Weller.

Interesting thoughts on migration are presented by the Palestinian-Italian group DAAR. Their project & nbsp; is a provocative film about an attempt to recognize the Dheisheh refugee camp as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This settlement, located south of Bethlehem, was founded in 1949 for 3,000 people. Today, it is home to about 15,000. Architects ask questions about who has the right to nominate objects or how to evaluate the heritage of the culture in exile.

Project of the DAAR group.

In the national pavilions, discussions are being held about the sustainability and sustainability of architecture. Sometimes you get the impression that architects want to go back to wooden buildings. Finns are nostalgic for their once successful project & nbsp; – the typical Puutalo house. Created in 1940 to solve the problem of Karelian refugees, it became a successful export product of Finland, which it sent to 30 countries of the world & nbsp; – from Israel to the former USSR. Some of them are still standing in the same places, but for the exhibition they were captured in photographs.

Finland Pavilion at XVII Venice Architecture Biennale. Finland Pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale.

The American Pavilion is hidden behind a translucent wooden structure that resembles a narrow house or an overly monumental entrance to it. Most single-family homes in America still continue to be built in this way, only they have become more often faced with synthetic materials that imitate wood. Photos of giant SUVs parked in front of buildings hint that material choices alone will not save the world and that the problems of our coexistence lie much deeper, particularly in politics.

USA Pavilion at the XVII Architecture Biennale in Venice. Russian Pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale.

During the reconstruction, the walled up windows and doors of the first floor were opened, overlooking the lagoon, as Shchusev had originally planned. In the lower wall of the northern hall, a new entrance was made in the form of three arches. In the upper tier, the walls turned white, in the lower tier they were cleaned to brick. All openings were opened, making the space accessible to the public, including those with limited mobility. The facades were again painted green, the floor & nbsp; became parquet, as it was under Shchusev. An example like this might encourage other countries to renew their exhibition spaces.

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In general, the current edition of the Architecture Biennale does not offer quick solutions to pressing problems. Instead, visitors are shown an abstract look at the future life of people in an artificially created space. Guests are shown projects in which the end of the world and the global crisis serve as a source of inspiration. There are many metaphors in projects, such as scented stones in a glass showcase, reminiscent of extinct flowers, or water dripping from the ceiling, reminiscent of global warming.

An important aspect of this exposition is undoubtedly its emphasized political character. According to the curator, architects can help people gain access to common goods, build bridges of communication, and overcome social isolation. How to do it? Simply create a space where buildings will bring people together and help them see the world with a better perspective.

Tatiana Rosenstein

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